COMMENTARY: N.C. restroom law not about transgenders, but state power (and public safety)

by Dr. Gregory Tomlin, |
A screen shot of one of a number of ads used in a campaign to defeat Proposition 1 in Houston. The ads focused on a portion a proposed Human Equal Rights Ordinance, otherwise known as the "bathroom bill" because it would allow a man to use a woman's bathroom or locker room, at will. | Campaign for Houston/SCREEN SHOT

RALEIGH (Christian Examiner) – LGBT activists are upset with the Tar Heel State over a new Public Facilities and Security Act which requires public schools, colleges, universities and other government offices to limit the use of restrooms to those whose biological sex at birth matches the gender assigned for the facilities.

Imagine that. No one born male may use a multiple-occupancy female restroom, and no one born female may use a multi-occupancy male restroom. It certainly seems thoroughly logical to guarantee the privacy of those taking care of life's necessities.

Just ask the handful of college students at the University of Toronto affected by the open use policy there. They found out last year how important restroom privacy is.

Allowing people to choose the restroom they wanted to use – a practice meant to assuage the consciences of transgenders suffering from what psychologists call "gender dysphoria" – created an opening for others to abuse the arrangement. Several Toms were caught peeping and even videotaping the girls in liberal Toronto.

That was too much for the women at the university, and the open use policy for restrooms at the university died faster than Martin O'Malley's presidential bid.

North Carolina's law was not the first such law to be proposed. South Dakota toyed with the provision in 2015, as have a dozen other states. In the Mount Rushmore State, the bill limiting multi-occupancy restrooms to males or females passed, but Gov. Dennis Daugaard vetoed it.

Daugaard claimed the bill didn't address any "pressing issue concerning the school districts of South Dakota" and might create liabilities for school districts where no liability exists now. He also claimed the bill would have imposed statewide mandates when local governments were capable of making such decisions.

The stated reason for the veto was ignored by LGBT activists, who could find a way to claim canned soup is offensive to them. They touted Daugaard's decision as a veto of state-sanctioned discrimination, calling the bill "dangerous" and a violation of federal law. One activist, Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, said the governor sent a message that "discrimination is not a South Dakotan value."

In reality, those who pushed the South Dakota bill argued that it would have protected privacy, actually prevented bullying of transgender students in a bathroom or locker room, and enhanced student safety. I also suspect the uncomfortable statistic dogging the state – it has the second highest rate of rape and sexual assault in the country (next to Alaska) –was lurking in the background.

I anticipate the usual objection here that being transgender or homosexuals does not make one a rapist. Granted, but also beside the point.

Open access to multiple-occupancy female restroom facilities creates opportunity for crime, most especially on children and women (as seen in Toronto).

If the creation of the opportunity for a crime is not a concern, why do we have laws prohibiting the sale of firearms to convicted felons? Why do we have laws ensuring that children are placed in suitable foster care environments? Why were different restrooms set aside for different biological sexes in the first place?

The answer to the final question is privacy and security, just as the citizens of Houston recognized when they vetoed a bathroom measure allowing open access to restrooms last year.

That a state has a right to enforce the observance of privacy, standards of decency, and to safeguard the interests of women and children – and even men – in public, multi-occupancy restrooms is without question.

But there is more in play here. The North Carolina bill likely never would have surfaced if the activist city council in Charlotte had not passed its own anti-discrimination ordinances (creating a "third gender") that did not comport with state law.

In February the council passed city ordinances that opened up all public restrooms, including multiple-occupancy restrooms, to transgenders as part of its efforts to put an end to supposed cases of discrimination in the city (there were none on record). That signaled the state that its power to make law, already in jeopardy by successive federal power grabs, was being chipped away at the local level, as well.

While the issues of privacy and safety were certainly a concern in North Carolina, legislators avoided the emotionally charged argument about transgenderism, homosexuality and public safety. The words "privacy" and "safety" are not mentioned on a single occasion in the state's bill.

State legislators instead wrote in the bill that discrimination is "properly an issue of general, statewide concern." The state's statutes "supersede and preempt any ordinance, regulation, resolution, or policy adopted or imposed by a unit of local government or other political subdivision of the State."

Perhaps that state's constitutional constructs and its desire to protect its own sovereignty had a great deal to do with state's new law after all.

Still, the way the bill was written only pushed the issue of public safety into the background. It was a concern, as evidenced by Gov. Pat McCrory's statement:

"This action of allowing a person with male anatomy, for example, to use a female restroom or locker room will most likely cause, immediate State legislative intervention which I would support as governor."

McCrory, himself a former mayor of Charlotte, said the bill doesn't open any class to discrimination and relates to state institutions. He also said he is doing his dead-level best to educate his constituency that the bill is not what is being presented in the media.

"I'm doing my job and communicating not only with the employees of the state, but also with employers of the state who are getting a lot of information – sadly even through your newspaper – that aren't clarifying the facts in a correct way," McCrory told a News & Observer reporter. "I've got to do it, especially with your editorial pages that are definitely misleading the public on many items."

McCrory also rejected any comparison between the public facilities and security legislation in North Carolina and a bill vetoed by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal that would have offered protections to people who object to supporting same-sex marriage with their businesses on religious grounds.

"I think the media is connecting the two when there's absolutely no connection whatsoever," McCrory said. "They're two different issues."

That isn't likely to stop the LGBT lobby from encouraging companies to pull out of the state and filing multiple lawsuits against the state's government for discrimination.

Nor will the truth prevent another full court press to enshrine the movement's cultural rotgut as law or to overturn the laws the people have enacted at the state level to secure their safety and privacy.

Dr. Gregory Tomlin covers the intersection of politics, culture and religion for Christian Examiner. He is also Assistant Professor of Church History and a faculty instructional mentor for Liberty University Divinity School. Tomlin earned his Ph.D. at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and also studied at Baylor University and Boston University's summer Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs. He wrote his dissertation on Southern Baptists and their influence on military-foreign policy in Vietnam from 1965-1973.